Monday, 31 January 2011

It's not what you know, it's who you know

After my day filled with crazy people I got myself a cheap flight to Jamaica for the following morning.  Once I got off the plane in Kingston, getting to a place to stay was a whole different matter.  Taxi drivers were telling me it would cost $35 to get to any place I had on the list, but I had read differently on the internet.  So I went to get the bus instead, for just $1.  I would get to somewhere myself!  A policeman stopped at the bus stop in his car to talk to me then when he moved further down to another woman waiting for the bus she completely ignored him, which says a lot for the police here!  A minute later a random man in a car stopped in front of us.  He was asked where I was going, then me and two other women at the bus stop got into the car.  Driving through Kingston with so much traffic and so many potholes in the roads made the journey an interesting one.  We almost crashed off the road, almost ran over a few people, almost ran over a dog, and almost ran over a goat. Yes that's right, a goat.  After lots of beeping, stopping, and people getting in and out of the car, I finally realised I was in a taxi.  But one without a taxi licence...just because everything I do isn't normal, as you probably know by now.  He dropped me off at one of the places I had on my list and asked for just $8 - much better than using a real taxi, don't you agree?!

So here's where the title of this blog comes in...
There was a mix-up on the hostelworld website and it wasn't a hostel or a guesthouse I was at, it was an apartment which could be rented between four people.  Of course, I couldn't afford that.  So the security guard phoned his friend, who phoned her friend, and two minutes later a taxi driver called Freddie came to pick me up.  He took me to a different guesthouse that I knew but they only had space for one night.  So the kind man that Freddie is, took me to where he lives and introduced me to a family who had a spare room that I could stay in!


There was Dainty, her 23 year old son Wade, and her 5 year old granddaughter Abria.  She set me up in a room with a double bed and made me a Jamaican dinner of jerk chicken with rice.  Little Abria chatted with me all night and was very fascinated with my camera at one point (hence all the photos).  She searched through the pictures of my family which were on my camera from Christmas day and she asked me who each person was, on every photo, until she started recognising them herself.

Wade & Dainty
She got to one picture and stopped.
"Who's that?"
"It's me!"
"Ohhh yeah.  You're white aren't you.  I forgot."
This whole time she had been looking at me just as a person, so when she didn't recognise the white girl in the photo, it was really something to think about how people see each other.
By the end of the night she declared that we were best friends.

The following day, with Dainty at work and Abria at school, I spent the day with Wade and his girlfriend Crystal (which I was later told doesn't mean girlfriend. In Jamaica, somebody isn't your girlfriend until she's your wife...who knows?!)  We went out for a while, got some lunch and I bought some things I needed, but the day mainly consisted of me asking millions of questions about life in Kingston.  It has such a bad reputation all around the world for being dangerous, so I wanted to know the truth from the people that lived there.  I don't know why I expected a different answer to all of my questions because I've learnt this in all my travels over the past few years.  There are bad people everywhere.  Fact.  But there are good people everywhere too.

The next day I met another member of the family, Dainty's nephew Sean.  After a slice of cake made from potato (I have NO idea how it tasted that good) made by Dainty, Dean took me to the salon he manages and introduced me to his friends.  Later on we got on a bus to downtown.  Oh my!  With the bus already full, I wondered where we would sit.  On the fold-down seat in the isle of course!  Let me tell you, you haven't been hot until you have been sandwiched in a tiny jam-packed bus in the Jamaican midday sun!  The conductor thought we could fit more people in, so he hung out of the door screaming;
"Downtown! Daawwwwwwntaaawwwwwwn!"
Not once did he communicate with the driver, so if people wanted to get on they had to use those power legs they have all inherited to run and jump onto the bus whilst it's still moving pretty quickly down the road.  It was definitely one of the most thrilling bus rides I've ever had, to say the least!

The streets were bustling with people, the shops were a sheet of tarpaulin on the floor and all their items placed on top. Each shop was almost like a mini supermarket; a pair of jeans sat right next to a TV, sat right next to a bottle of washing up liquid.

We walked passed a place called Tivoli Gardens, which is infamous for the unrest it has experienced over the years, most notably in 2010 where at least 73 civilian were killed.  Sean explained to me that it was between the Jamaican military police and a drug cartel ran by Christopher Coke.  He said the reason that there was so much hassle was because all the people were on Christopher Coke's side, as he protected them and gave them jobs and money.

I don't have any photos of downtown Kingston. Sean told me not to get my camera out....(cynical me was thinking it was because it could get robbed)...because too many people would want a picture taken!
We took these photo in the market when nobody was looking.

When we got back home, there was a light bulb flashing in Sean's mind.
"We could get married.  Wade, you could marry one of her friends, they're beautiful."
Watch out everyone!

The next morning, I was to leave Kingston.  Just three nights there and I've come away with a family.  Four people who I'll remember forever.  Freddie drove me to the bus station where I hopped on for another crazy bus journey, this time for four hours driving through the beautiful Blue Mountains.  I had said goodbye to my family in Kingston and was saying hello to some brand new friends in Bethel Court Guesthouse in Montego Bay.

Friday, 21 January 2011

No pictures just a story

I had found a boat to hitch on a website [ask me if you want it].  The man's name was Joe and he was picking me up at 11am from Anna's place to take me to his place in Fort Lauderdale.  What turned up was a Mercedes and a very friendly 40ish year old man.  We got to his place after about an hour.  Holy ****!  I've never seen anything like it.  His house was a mansion.  There was even a room just for a metal bull to stand in.  Seven bathrooms.  Countless bedrooms.  Two pools.  Four cars.  Four Harleys.  Two yachts.

We went for lunch and chatted about where we would go, what we liked and disliked, what we had done, places we had been.  He showed me around the yacht that we were going in.  Everything was going well but for some reason I didn't feel comfortable.  Thinking back now, he talked a lot about how to stay safe whilst I am travelling alone, so maybe it just got me thinking.  If it was intentional then he is very clever, because I started to feel vulnerable.  I made a decision and told him that I didn't want to go anymore.  He was fine about it and helped me find a hostel to stay at in Fort Lauderdale.  As I was leaving the house to get in the car I saw a book laid out on the table.  It had a long title that I can't fully remember, but it was an instruction guide on how to communicate sociably, in public and individually.  At that point I realised he was just a lonely old man.  At lunch he had told me his way of doing things in life and one thing that I particularly remember was him saying the reason people fail in life was because they didn't plan things like he does.  Seeing that book on the table made me see he had prioritised all the wrong things in his life.  In my eyes, he has failed.  He has everything but nobody to share it with.

He drove me to the hostel where I got a bed in a dorm.  There was a woman there who was around 40 years old (although I'm sure hostels are for young people?!) from Ohio.  She asked where I came from and when I told her Liverpool, she looked at me in amazement.
"Oh wow. What's it like there? I heard it's really liberal."
I asked what she meant.
"People run riot and everything. They're not religious at all."
I said no not really.
"Wow. Oh my gosh. It's godless!!"
I explained that it's not a bad place at all, people just get on with their lives with or without god.
" Godless. *huh* They just don't know do they!?!!"

After reading this blog post, please put your hand up right now if you are happy with who you are and with what you have.  Good.  You should be.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Miami Beach

I had a mission: to find a boat to hitch to the Caribbean.  So on my first full day in Miami Beach (yes, it's a different place than Miami) I made the most of the free breakfast given at the hostel, then walked down the beach towards the marina.

By the looks of things Baywatch is starting up again...
Free breakfast and free boat rides...yes I'm a cheapskate.  Saying this, an hour or so later I went in a travel shop for a (free) map then ended up paying $50 for something.  Oops!  I guess this can be an award for finding £50 in an old bank account at home.  It was a trip to the Everglades.  And just so I would definitely buy, I was given a free bus tour and free boat tour for the day.  The bus tour was pretty good, I learned a few things about Miami and Miami Beach as well as let ourselves into the most famous hotel in Miami for a toilet break...

Straight after, we went on the boat tour.  It took us around the islands of the rich and famous.  I took a few photos but can't quite remember who's house was P.Diddy's, Sylvester Stallone's, or Madonna's...

Anyway, me being me and not just doing things the normal way, I made friends with the captain of the boat and ended up driving it through bridges and passageways.  It was a lot harder than you imagine!

The next morning was my Everglades tour.  It's the biggest national park in the USA as well as having more species of birds, mammals, fish, anything you can think of, than any other park in the USA.  We were driven to where we would have the airboat tour.

                     And then I held an alligator...

I met up with Anna after the Everglades tour.  She's an Australian nurse and has been working out in Miami for just over a year.  Her roommate (or flatmate!!) Lavada had recently moved from New York...because she needs some sun!  Had a dinner of chicken chow mein, carefully prepared by Anna (thankyou it was lovely) whilst watching "Wipeout" on TV.  For those of you who don't know "Wipeout", YouTube it, it's AMAZING! --- ""8.30, Wipeout time!!""

Went with the flow the following day (because I'm too lazy to make a plan) and ended up getting the bus to downtown Miami [oooooooooooo!].  Wandered around a market which was really touristy and took a few pictures of a man jamming to a reggae band.  I don't know why, he just looked pretty.>>>

Decided I wanted to see the real downtown so I hopped on the free shuttle-train-thingy and got off at a stop which I chose by singing "Eenie meenie miney mo".  I found the real downtown Miami. Wow.  Homeless people everywhere.  Some had shopping trolleys filled with who-knows, some had ten jackets on even though it was sunny, one had an umbrella, and one had a pigeon on his head...just to name a few.  Hmmmmm...where to go? The tallest building I could see, why not?!  Planning on using my I'm-a-stupid-tourist- card if I got caught, I headed up three different lifts (or elevators if you're American) and found myself in a lawyers office on the 47th floor.  I used my British charm on a lady in an office to ask if I could take a picture of the skyline from the window. She was very confused. So I did it anyway.

After a very complicated way back (must have taken a wrong turn somewhere) I made my way back to Anna's place; stopping by at Miami Ink Studios [on the DMAX channel on Sky in the UK] and meeting Yoji.

Once Anna got back from work, all three of us went out for cocktails. More specifically Mojitos. More specifically alcohol that will get you so drunk in three drinks that you eat the whole menu in a taco cafe.
A great few days spent with Anna and Lavada, thankyou very much ladies!

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Written on the plane...

    "Do not go where the path may lead...go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."

For a while now I have been thinking of what I should write for the first post in my travel blog. I imagined writing something about how excited I am to begin to fulfil a dream I have had for so long. About the one phrase that I think about so often, that tells me I am allowed to live a life unfamiliar to hundreds and unthinkable to thousands, but the only way for me.

However, after the hard week of goodbyes I have just had, I would most like to write here how thankful and grateful I am for the wonderful people I have in my life. People have told me I am brave in doing what I am but I know I am only able to do this because of the strength I have been given by others. And the goodbyes alone have given me something I will never forget. I will always know where home is.

So why do I dream about traveling the world? After all the hard goodbyes I have had this week I have even wondered this myself. All I know is that it isn't just a want to see the beauty of a country; it is the need to do something positive for the world. How am I going to go about doing that? I'm not sure, but I think I might have to go where there is no path and leave a trail.